Film review of ‘Rush’: Decidedly one-dimensional, but will still give you a rush

Some rather heavy hitters have been brought to bear on Rush, a dramatised account of the intense and infamous rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. As directed by Ron Howard on a rare sabbatical from his standard Hollywood fodder, the film boasts a screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and stars hot, young properties Hemsworth (Thor) and Brühl (Good Bye Lenin!, The Edukators). Shot by Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), it also has some high-octane racing sequences that are shot with both flair and attention to detail. For all the noise and fury though, this remains a strangely superficial account of the extraordinary events that took place during the 1976 Formula 1 season, a story told with far more nuance and depth in Matthew Whiteman’s recent TV documentary Hunt vs Lauda: F1s Greatest Racing Rivals.

However, there is little to fault regarding the acting performances, although the material rarely tests them to the limit. Australian Hemsworth certainly captures Hunt’s swagger, impulsiveness and upper-crust British accent – with his long hair and smirking demeanour, he looks and sounds the part – while German Brühl steals the show as the clinically sanitised, ultra-analytical Lauda, despite his gratingly force-fed accented voiceover.

Also, it would seem that familiarity was the main attraction for writer Peter Morgan in selecting this project: mimicking broadcaster David Frost and much-maligned US president Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon (2008), Hunt and Lauda are polar opposites who turn out to have an unlikely rapport, fascinated by each other by virtue of the stark differences between them. Hunt is an instinctive and risk-taking driver who sees motor racing as noble and worthy of putting his life on the line for, while Lauda is reserved and calculating, viewing the sport far more in terms of risk assessment and mechanical engineering than as a synergy of man and machine. However, both are portrayed as highly motivated and obsessive in their own ways, and the filmmakers take especially great care to balance aspects of Hunt’s hedonism with his seriousness and passion for the sport – he is seen vomiting before each race and suffering from bouts of depression when he cannot find a sponsor. However, despite the cautionary approach taken by Lauda, it is not without irony that it is he who suffers a devastating crash during the 1976 season and not ‘Hunt the Shunt’, but as the film unravels, it is clear that only Lauda could have possessed the strength of character and determination to stage a comeback and, for once, throw caution to the wind and return to the track less than two months later.

Where the film fails is in its ever-burgeoning mawkishly sentimental approach to the storytelling, which eventually causes the film to crash and burn into hackneyed buddy-movie territory – at a crucial race in Japan for example, we see the pair knowingly and tritely salute one another on the grid, accompanied by a typically dramatic and soaring Hans Zimmer score and a downpour of rain to emulate the bucket-loads of pathos. However, considering that this is a fairly bog-standard template about rivalry, ego and ambition, Rush is surprisingly exhilarating and engaging at times. Mantle’s cinematography has the same fluidity and improvisatory quality that made his Dogme films so distinctive. However, as a piece of storytelling, it is inevitably one-dimensional boy’s-own fodder. What matters most to the filmmakers is the chronology of events, and in their own way, they are every bit as blinkered as the drivers whose stories they are telling – number 1 indeed when it comes to formula.

Rush (15)

Dir: Ron Howard; US drama, 2013, 123 mins; Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Dormer, Alexandra Maria Lara
Premiered September 12
Playing nationwide